Getting closure: Old Marine returns to Vietnam

Sandra Clark
Editor

Gary Koontz, along with wife Vicki, is a one-stop real estate shop. He buys, builds and sells; he partnered in development of Fountainhead on Tazewell Pike, Kinley’s Kanyon in Corryton and Urban Park in West Knox.

And he shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, he rarely leaves town, so you can imagine the stretch of his return visit to Vietnam after fighting there as a Marine some 50 years ago.

Koontz traveled 9,000 miles from home with John Becker from WBIR-TV, who taped a show called “Facing Ghosts.” The 8-part series is available online at wbir.com.

Gary Koontz as a 19-year-old Marine.
Gary Koontz as a 19-year-old Marine.

Catching up at Litton’s, Gary said the visit was not what he expected. The people were welcoming and the country looked prosperous. There were no signs of the war that claimed more than a million lives of soldiers and civilians and forced the retirement of President Lyndon Johnson.

Gary Koontz today
Gary Koontz today

Koontz rented a car and hired a driver to take him to his old base north of Da Nang. He was sure he could drive straight to it, but time and the jungle had reclaimed the spot. He drove on steep mountain roads, now protected with guardrails. One narrow pass where the enemy often set ambushes now features a small store, selling snacks and souvenirs.

Asked if the trip “brought closure,” the old Marine said he found closure the day he left the fight to head home. He used words roughly translated: “I’m outta here and these people can kiss my rear end.”

Vicki Koontz said Gary should realize that he did find his battlefield. “But guess what? Nothing’s there but peace.”

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